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General Contexts

Intrapersonal Communication (Persuasion)

Interpersonal Communication

Small Group Communication

Organizational Communication

Intercultural Communication

Mass Communication

Applied Contexts

Health Communication

Instructional Communication

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Last updated Feb. 14, 2001


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Explanation of Theory:

Communication senders attempt to manipulate messages so as to be untruthful, which may cause them apprehension concerning their false communication being detected.  Simultaneously, communication receivers try to unveil or detect the validity of that information, causing suspicion about whether or not the sender is being deceitful.

Theorists: Buller and Burgoon

Date: 1996

Primary Article:

     Buller, D.B., and Burgoon, J.K. (1996). Interpersonal deception theory. Communication Theory, 6, 203-242.

Individual Interpretations:

There are three aspects of deceptive messages:

* The central deceptive message, which is usually verbal.

* Ancillary message, which includes both verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication that often reveals the truthfulness of a particular message. 

* Inadvertent behaviors which are mostly nonverbal and help to point out the deceit of the sender through a term called leakage.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:

As far as the nature of reality, Deception Theory is very humanistic in that it views multiple realities all contingent on the different situational factors on individuals involved.

Epistemological Assumptions:

In terms of knowledge, this theory is also humanistic.  What is discovered from the research  depends entirely on who is doing the knowing.

Axiological Assumptions:

The Interpersonal Deception Theory is humanistic in the sense of values.  Values of the individuals involved are concluded from their own values and experiences.


From the research I have found on this theory, I believe Interpersonal Deception Theory to be mostly a humanistic theory.  Besides the fact that it predicts that humans attempt to deceive and the receiver evaluates the communication behavior to determine the validity of the message,  it has very little predictive power.  It can not predict truthfulness in a specific instance between two specific people because such a unique event is contingent on so many things.  Contingencies include whether the deception was premeditated, if there was time available to plan, the consequences of being detected, and the anticipated success of escaping detection.  This theory mostly explains the different types of deceptive acts, motives for deception, and describes the factors that measure whether an attempt at deception will be a successful act. 

Ideas and Implications:

Interpersonal Deception is a useful theory for someone who has either attempted to deceive or thought someone was trying to deceive them.  It helps when looking back on a situation to evaluate the verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors to discover if someone has lied.  This theory is usually self-serving, but can also be used to maintain an interpersonal relationship.  Everyone has lied and everyone has been lied to, so Deception Theory is very useful and practical.


A concrete example to help understand Interpersonal Deception is an experience between two best friends, Madeline and Isabell:

Last weekend while Isabell was out of town, Madeline got too intoxicated at a fraternity party and kissed her best friend's boyfriend.  Not only is Madeline not telling Isabell about what happened, even when she questioned her about what she did last weekend, Madeline lied and said she went to a friend's house and did not even drink. 

Relevant Research:

     Shuy, R.W. (1998). The Language of Confession, Interrogation, and Deception.

     Dupuy, J.P. (1998). Self-Deception and Paradoxes of Rationality

     Cooper, T.W. (1998). A Time Before Deception: Truth in Communication, Culture, and Ethics

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. pp. 285-286.

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. pp. 146-147.

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. p. 64.

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A